Gorky's Letter on the Russian Revolution
Comrades, - The conflict against the mean oppression of poverty is a conflict for the liberation of the world from that net of coarse contradictions in which all men are fiercely and impotently struggling.
You are manfully trying to break this net: your enemies are making determined efforts to entangle you till more securely in its meshes, your weapon is the sharp sword of truth, that of your enemies the crooked needle of falsehood. Dazzled by the glitter of gold, they slavishly trust in its might, and do not perceive with what steadily increasing brightness burns the great ideal of the union of all men in one comrade-family of free workers. Socialism, the religion of liberty, equality and fraternity, is as unintelligible to them as is music to a man who is deaf and dumb, or poetry to an idiot. When they see the mighty march of the masses of the people toward freedom and light, dreading a disturbance of their peace, trembling for their position as lords of life, they hide the truth even from one another and console themselves with the spectral hope of defeating justice. They slanderously describe the proletariat as a dark mass of hungry beasts whose one desire is to gorge large quantities of food and who are ready for the sake of a good hunk of bread to destroy everything with which they cannot fill their maw.
Religion and science they employ as instruments for holding you in servitude; they have invented Nationalism and Anti-semitism, venom with which they would poison your faith in the brotherhood of all men; even God exists for the bourgeois merely as a guardian of property. In Russia a revolution is bursting into flame, and they slander utterly the Russian proletariat, representing the workman as a mere unconscious elemental force, a barbarous horde, ready to destroy, to wipe out completely all that exists, and incapable of creating anything but anarchy.
The man who addresses you now is a man of the people, one who knows the people, and who has not broken his connection with the people until this day, one who is an open-minded spectator of the struggle of the Russian proletariat, and this man declares to you:
The Russian proletariat is struggling consciously for the political freedom it urgently needs, and that it wrung the Manifesto of October 30 from the Government by its own strength. They tell you this Manifesto was an act of the Emperor's free will; his truth is, it was a trophy of the people's victory.
If the interests of the nation had really been dear to the Government it would assuredly have seen to it that the Manifesto of October 30 would secure in every corner of the Empire the force of unalterable law. But our Government is stamped with the habit of arbitrary rule; it denies all laws and is filled with the one great care of securing its own position, which, finding most profitable, it has naturally no desire to abandon.
And so, immediately after the publication of the Manifesto in St. Petersburg, governors and other high officials concocted a plot against the people, a plot of which the object was to show that the Russian people was not yet capable of appreciating the blessings of political liberty or of using them in a fitting way. The plot was afterwards exposed in the press by one of the conspirators. The results of this plot were the brutal attacks on these great sufferers, the Jews, on the revolutionary intellectuals, and on the working men.
You have read of those wise acts of Russian administrators. These men committed a crime, the like of which has never been known in human history - a crime for the baseness of which it is impossible to find a name.
There is, perhaps, no need for me to explain that the source of the state of anarchy existing in Russia must be sought in the Russian Government, and in the head of the Government, the weak-willed, double-minded Sergius Witte. It is said that this man is regarded by the bourgeoisie of Western Europe and America as a great statesman. If this be true, I am very sorry. I have a very high opinion of the intelligence and penetration of the bourgeoisie in the West, and I find it hard to understand how anyone can see a statesman's talent and intellect in a man who has brought his country to ruin and is now selling it by retail; for his proposal to mortgage the Russian railways to foreign capitalists can only be called a case of Turkish policy, which in Russia is not regarded as intelligent even by cretins.
Ever since October 30, Witte's Government has been frankly and openly provoking the Russian people and attempting to give an anarchic character to the Russian revolution by setting nationality against nationality, class against class,country against town, and village against village. In some such phrase as this will the honest and impartial historian in time summarise the experience through which our country has passed and is still passing.
The historian who should say that the Government has been attempting to pacify a country aroused to fury by its misfortune would lie. All the acts of the Government in October, November and December, right down to this very day, have been an open infraction of the rights won by the people and recognised as belonging to it; and there is ample reason to believe that this infraction was intentional, its object being to irritate the people, to drive it into insurrection, and to crush its strength by the strength of the army. A certain measure of success attended this effort of the highly-placed anarchists of St. Petersburg to dissipate the forces of the proletariat before it had had time to organise for open conflict. The insurrections in Moscow and in other towns were a direct outcome of the provocatory acts of authorities' who openly scoffed at the law.
Admiral Dubasseff, on taking up his duties as Governor-General of Moscow, openly declared that he considered it his task to restore the autocracy, which had been limited by the Act of October 30, and in this declaration lay the origin of the Moscow insurrection.
But the Government made it sad mistake and the fruits of its error will be bitter. It set to work to destroy Moscow by cannon-fire, but, as it matter of fact, the proletariat does not own any real property, and the man who suffered was the bourgeois. Valuing his property more highly than honour and life, and seeing it given over by the Government, together with his life, into the hands of soldiers who were half-drunk and who were irritated by hard service, he suddenly grew wroth and began to build barricades.
It was he, the bourgeois, who built the barricades, and not the Revolutionary Militia, which was physically incapable of coping with the task. When, in good time, the number of the armed insurgents becomes generally known the whole world will ask in amazement how this little band could fight for 15 whole days and nights against thousands of artillerymen, cavalry and infantry. And seeing that miracles are out of the question in our day, all reasonable people will at once understand the significance of the part played by the little bourgeois in the Moscow revolution, all will realise of what heroism the Russian people is capable. On the streets of Moscow the instinct of self-preservation strove alongside with an awakened consciousness; the first struggled brutally like a wounded animal, while the second embodied in the persons of the revolutionaries, strove heroically like a man inspired by the great fire of the ideal.
"The proletariat is beaten, the revolution is stamped out," shrieks our reactionary press in malignant delight. Such delight is premature. The proletariat is not beaten. Although it has suffered loss. The revolution is strengthened with new hopes and during these days its ranks have been immensely increased. The revolution has gained a great moral victory over the bourgeoisie which now perceives most clearly who it is that is creating anarchy in Russia and with what object it is created, who is struggling against anarchy and with what end - the bourgeoisie perceives that the people is defending that freedom which it also needs, that freedom which the people has bought with its blood, and of which the Government would now rob it.
The Russian Government has, as a result of its tactlessness, gained a Pyrrhic victory; by its impotence and forced brutality it has driven moderate elements towards the left, and will, I am confident, drive them still further in that direction. The Russian proletariat is marching towards certain victory, for in Russia it alone is spiritually strong, it alone has faith in itself, to it alone belongs the future.
I declare that the Russian revolution is a cultural and constructive movement, the only movement capable of saving Russia from political dissolution. I declare that the bourgeoisie is impotent and incapable of constructive political work, and I further declare that the anarchy in my country is the work of a Government occupied solely with the defence of its own interests, which have nothing in common with those of the nation.
All that I have here set down is truth, and will in due time be confirmed by history, if, that is, the hand of the historian be an honest hand and justice be his religion.
Long live, then, the proletariat as it goes forth to renew the whole world. Long live the working men of all lands who by the strength of their hands have built up the wealth of nations and are now labouring to create it new life! Long live Socialism, the religion of the future.
Greetings to the fighters, greetings to the workers of all lands, and may they ever have faith in the victory of truth, the victory of justice! Long live humanity fraternally united in the great ideals of equality and freedom!
- M. GORKY.
- January 1, 1906.